Interview -July 2001
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Ken SInclair, Gerry Hull & Steve Tom

Gerry Hull
Steve Tom
For over 20 years Gerry Hull has been President/CEO of Automated Logic Corporation, Kennesaw, GA, a company which develops and manufactures electronic hardware/software control systems for buildings.  He holds a bachelors degree in mechanical engineering from Vanderbilt University and received his MBA from Emory University.

Steve Tom, PE, PhD, is the director of technical information at Automated Logic Corporation, Kennesaw, GA.  He coordinates the marketing and technical information programs at ALC, and works with the company's R&D engineers to improve the usability of new products.

Our September Issue will deal with Industry Restructuring. Is it happening?

[an error occurred while processing this directive]Sinclair - Has your company had to restructure to accept the IT approach?

Hull - Tom:  I'm not certain I know what you consider "restructuring to accept the IT approach." Certainly our IT department has grown tremendously, and they've gone from being the "wire pullers" for our office to being the heart of our internal communications medium and an integral part of our R&D program. They provide invaluable tools and expertise, but we are still at heart an HVAC Controls company.

Sinclair - Building Automation is often being bundled as part of larger packages i.e. performance contracts. What are the pros and cons?

Hull - Tom:  The major pro is that these contracts provide funding for long overdue upgrades. Projects that never would have been funded through conventional channels are being undertaken as performance contracts. The danger is that these contractors can create long term problems for short term gains. There is also a danger that they will focus solely on one aspect of a business's expenses, namely the energy costs, and will make decisions that save energy but create problems in other areas. If you look at the total expenses of most companies, on a $/SF/yr basis, you'll find the energy costs are dwarfed by the personnel (payroll) costs. We learned during the 1970's that saving energy by "making them sweat in the dark" didn't save anything in the long run. There are great opportunities for saving energy while still allowing our building systems to meet the "prime objective" of providing a healthy, comfortable environment. As long as the performance contracts focus on these opportunities, and not on penny-wise-and-pound-foolish short term objectives, there's a lot that can be accomplished.

Sinclair - The traditional bid and spec approach is giving way to request for proposal and or design build. What are the pros and cons?

Hull - Tom:  The pros are that the new procurement methods give you a much better way to take advantage of new ideas and new technologies. The cons are that they're much tougher to evaluate and manage, and it's even more important that the contract goes to a reputable firm that will work with you to overcome thousands of problems and unforeseen events which occur during any major building project. There was never a spec written that could force a dishonest contractor to become honest, but at least they "reined in" the ones who were leaning in that direction and gave you a big club to hold over them. The disadvantage was that they also reined in the honest contractors, and forced them to "design down" to the lowest cost system that would meet the technical provisions in your spec. If a new product was available that was better than what you specified, he couldn't afford to base his price on it because it might cost him the contract if it was more expensive, or you might reject it and force him to use the specified item if it was cheaper. The RFP and Design/Build approaches allow (force?) the buyer and the contractor to become partners, working together instead of sparring in an adversarial role. Like any partnership, you just need to be careful with whom you partner.

Sinclair - Is the integration contactor likely to be an independent contractor or an added value to existing automation contractors?

Hull - Tom:  I may be a little biased in this regard, but I think it's an added value to an existing automation contractor. When all is said and done, it's still best to have one contractor in charge of a job. When you hire Contractor A to install a new system and tie it in to an existing system put in place by Contractor B, he may have some headaches to overcome but at least he understands one of the two systems intimately and he has the full support and cooperation of at least one of the two vendors. To me, hiring Contractor C to make certain Contractor A's system talks to Contractor B's system just seems like an unnecessary complication.

Sinclair - How would you recommend that owners handle protocol standards and IT convergence to allow themselves the option of changing control contractors in the future?

Hull - Tom:  At the IT level, buy systems that fully embrace Web standards throughout. It is the only way to follow the Web wave of new products and services that will be flowing for years to come. At the HVAC protocol level, buy BACnet. It is the only protocol out there with the robustness and HVAC system features that can handle the job. There are other protocols but every one we have seen is full of too many "gotchas", limitations, and can only be implemented with proprietary fixes and "workarounds". Some look great in the beginning, but in the end they are skilled labor intensive.

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